Anne Bradstreet, The Heretical Poet.

Essay by Greg SaxonHigh School, 11th grade April 1995

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The purpose of this research is to discuss heretical elements in the poetry of Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672). This is not to imply that Bradstreet was a heretic in the sense that American religious reformer Anne Hutchinson was. Hutchinson (1591-1643) emigrated to Boston in 1634 and preached a doctrine of salvation through intuitive apprehension of grace rather than by works, and attacked the rigid moral and legal codes of New England Puritanism. Anne Bradstreet accepted the tenets of Puritanism and was a very religious person. Anti-Puritan themes are, however, to be found in her poetry in terms of her religious doubts, her expression of personal emotions and thoughts, and her artistry. She did not write to preach or teach,, as Puritan writers were instructed to, but to express herself. It is this personal expression that forms the basis of the heretical elements in her poetry.

To understand why personal expression may be considered heretical, the society in which Bradstreet lived and wrote must be examined in order to comprehend what kinds of human activities and behaviors were acceptable and how Bradstreet deviated from these behaviors.

Bradstreet was not truly unorthodox in that she did not dissent from accepted beliefs and doctrine. She was a woman of the 17th Century and lived in a male dominated, intensely religious society. She lived within the limitations not only of the beliefs and standards of her society, but of her sex. A woman's place was definitely in the home in Colonial America. The experiences of women were considered narrow and trivial in comparison with men's.

Puritanism was more than a religious belief; it was a way of life. 'In the dozen years before 1640, some 15,000 Englishmen crossed the Atlantic in order to establish a 'Holy Commonwealth' in which that way of life could flourish'(Hall...